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What we can learn from BBM’s side of TikTok

By Angel Martinez Published Jun 17, 2022 5:00 am

Vice President Leni Robredo’s campaign was widely regarded as the people’s movement. Volunteers engaged in house-to-house dialogue, distributed comic books that detailed her achievements, and flocked to busy streets across the country to sing and shout their hearts out in support of their president.

On my side of social media, it seemed like all signs were pointing to a landslide victory, which is what made the disconnect between online predictions and real-life results so jarring. I spent election night locked up in my room, in total disbelief. How did the opposite camp see VP Leni’s infographics of achievements and platform points, or listen to her emphatic speeches and still not feel compelled to vote for her?

Vice President Leni Robredo during a campaign rally

Eventually, it occurred to me: they probably hadn’t seen or heard them at all.

BBM supporters, in particular, are deeply entrenched in disinformation. This is a fact many of us are exposed to and yet, I felt like I hadn’t the faintest clue of what exactly we were up against. As a result, I created a separate TikTok for the sole purpose of seeing what version of reality his followers subscribed to.

Aside from unity, another benefit that somewhat came with voting for BBM was the possibility of continuity. Many of those who commented on pro-BBM TikToks can also be found praising President Duterte’s crass yet “cool” leadership style.

The “aww” factor

From the get-go, I could tell that a bulk of the content I came across centered mostly on reframing Bongbong Marcos and revitalizing his image. BBM comes off as an underdog, as he often purports that mainstream sources of media have historically been biased against him and his family. 

In one of the most-liked videos under the #bbmforpresident2022 hashtag, he proclaims before a large crowd that many of his charitable deeds during times of calamity, as well as the bills he’s passed into legislation, go largely unnoticed, which encourages them to seek out alternative sources of information such as TikTok.

The power of fandom

This treatment also applies to the rest of the Marcos family, who have consistently populated their TikTok and YouTube accounts with “day in the life”-type videos as well as vlog challenges. These glimpses into their seemingly normal existences sought to humanize them and — when spliced between laugh tracks — provide much-needed entertainment to distraught Filipinos amid the pandemic. “Kaya ko gusto ang pamilyang Marcos,” said one comment on a TikTok of BBM and his son Sandro watching spoof videos of themselves. “Sobrang lakas makapag-pagoodvibes.

Some even elevated their current level of fanaticism by creating fancams in the style of K-pop stans on Twitter, with Sandro Marcos stepping out of a car in slow motion or presumptive First Lady Liza shooting a hater a “savage” look. Upon seeing how their opponents heavily benefited from this contemporary type of propaganda, I wondered if our odds would have been better if we had encouraged this kind of fan behavior.

The appeal to emotion

On this side of the interwebs, there are no complicated infographics that list his achievements in detail, nor are there any snippets of speeches with hifalutin language or jargon. One of the most-liked examples is of presumptive Vice President Sara Duterte at a sortie, where she recounts tending to a victim of an explosion in the city of Davao — an incident she believed to be the work of rebels. He ended up dying on her watch, which only made her think of the children he’d left behind. According to her, Bongbong Marcos deserves to be president because he would never conspire with forces against the administration and let innocent children grow up without their fathers. This was met with deafening applause and a sea of comments filled with crying emojis alongside red and green hearts.

Vice President Sara Duterte

In fact, the very lack of a solid platform that we often call him out for worked to his advantage. The simple promise of unity — of healing a nation damaged by both a pandemic and political divide, of rising together despite the several differences that might set us apart — was easy to understand and instantly planted itself in the hearts and minds of several Filipinos.

The trusted seals of approval

Aside from unity, another benefit that somewhat came with voting for BBM was the possibility of continuity. Many of those who commented on pro-BBM TikToks can also be found praising President Duterte’s crass yet “cool” leadership style in other videos as well as the (arbitrary) changes he made to the Philippines compared to when the Aquinos were in power. By saying that corruption in the country will be eradicated by electing another Marcos, Duterte passed the metaphorical torch on to his most fitting successor. By running alongside him, Sara Duterte affirmed that BBM would fully restore every Filipino’s confidence in the administration.

* * *

Though the outcome of the last elections was heavily influenced by grand-scale distortion of facts, political machinery, and algorithm work, we have to admit our approach wasn’t perfect. The noise on social media was sometimes so deafening, it overpowered the work of volunteers on the ground, who were doing their best to establish one-to-one relationships and sway potential voters.

Now that the damage has already been done, the divide between the two camps continues to widen at an alarming speed. Some professionals have started gatekeeping their services from those who don’t share their political stance, while others have outwardly wished for a failed administration so BBM supporters suffer the consequences of their actions. It’s obvious that radical love was not the solution it shaped up to be, but is stooping down to their level any better? Do we expect them to crawl to us on their knees and beg for mercy once we’ve exacted revenge?

If there’s anything my deep dive into the other side of TikTok has pointed to, it’s that the odds were heavily stacked against us, but through no fault of those who believed in the lies. While there is much to be said about those who could have educated themselves yet chose not to, voters who were not afforded the same breadth and depth of resources did the best with what they knew. The very least we could do is not make them feel like they don’t deserve the agency they had when they made their choice. 

Instead, let us find ways to channel all of this anger in preparation for the long fight we have up ahead. For the next six years, we will be holding an administration accountable not only for the shortcomings they are bound to commit but for the sins they refuse to acknowledge. For the next six years, we have to remember that we are fighting for them and for the generations that follow — not against them.